If a film about a scary mirror that kills people and encourages them to do the same to others sounds preposterous and silly, that’s because it is. Oculus is the film in question; a tale of mentally disturbed brother and sister duo Kaylie and Tim, both scarred by the memories of their parents’ attempts to murder them as children.
The movie opens with Tim (Brenton Thwaites) being collected by his sister Kaylie (Karen Gillan) from a mental hospital. The last time they saw one another was 11 years ago on the traumatic night they narrowly escaped death at their own parent’s hands. What should be an emotionally dense and confusing reunion for these two is rendered on the screen with all the complexity and emotive force of a microwave meal. Corny hugs and clichéd comments on how much they’ve grown abound.
Eschewing the very notion of dealing with the past like a quasi-normal human being, Kaylie has spent the last 11 years tracking down the naughty mirror that she believes caused her parents to go loony. Miraculously, the mirror has come back into her possession on the exact same evening that her brother’s been released from hospital. This is extremely fortuitous because, as we all know, there’s no better way of re-connecting with your estranged brother than by immediately presenting him with the centrifugal sum of his fears and psychological traumas that have hospitalised him for the last decade.
Kaylie and Tim rig up their parent’s old house with cameras to record what happens to them as a means of proving the mirror, referred to as The Lasser Glass, is evil. Lo and behold, all kinds of poltergeist-esque bumps and bangs in the dark occur as the brother and sister start to lose their grip on reality – the mirror altering their perception with an occasionally ingenious flair for discombobulation. All of this is interspersed with cuts back to their childhood, charting the breakdown of their parent’s marriage as they slowly went crazy themselves.
Director Mike Flanagan definitely has a talent for constructing a few quite fun shocks, but at no point do these amount to anything that even encroaches on the unnerving. The emphasis on “jump” scares prevents the construction of a genuine sense of dread in favour of cheap, almost vaudevillian, parlour tricks which leaves the film bereft of tangible fear.
Oculus should be saluted for trying something different, and there are points that are certainly good fun littered intermittently through the otherwise tiresome silliness. Lacking believable character arcs, narrative progression or interesting scares, Oculus should have perhaps have taken a harder look at itself first.
Oculus is out in UK cinemas on that most spooky of dates, Friday the 13th… of June, 2014.